And the job goes to...

26th September 1997 at 01:00
This is an unpleasant duty, but someone has to express dismay at the appointment of Mr Owen Lynch as acting chief executive of the National Council for Educational Technology.

For the sake of those who don't know about the NCET's work, I had better explain that it is an organisation entrusted with the task of promoting the use of information technology in education. It oversees government pilot schemes, evaluates software, produces in-service training materials and bangs the drum for new technology. The trouble is, it seems to be preaching to the converted.

Despite the Pounds 3 billion that the previous Government spent on IT in education, 70 per cent of the teaching profession still don't use computers in their lessons. For many of them, any talk of RAM, URLs, ISPs, the WWW and the like remains gobbledygook. They don't mind: they know that it's easier to ignore IT than to use it.

They'd be quite happy for the NCET to continue as it has done and to leave them in peace. But that's no excuse for appointing Mr Lynch. The NCET is a quango, so there must have been a range of eminently suitable candidates. The top job calls for someone with a high public profile, who is well-known in the world of education and who is, temporarily, in need of some form of gainful employment - for example, John Patten, the former Education Secretary, or Tinky Winky, the former Teletubby. If neither was available, surely there were retired civil-servants and assorted captains of industry who would have jumped at the chance to add the NCET to their already crowded CVs?

Mr Lynch, sadly, is not of that ilk. He is a teacher. No, that is not a misprint: a teacher! A headteacher of a little primary school! A state school at that! Can you credit it? An organisation that exists to help teachers to use computers is to be run by a teacher! A man who has spent his working life in a school! With children! Using computers! What can someone from that kind of background possibly know about the way children might use computers in schools?

As it happens, a few years ago, I visited Mr Lynch at his school. I can remember very little about him (no one who met either Mr Patten or Tinky Winky could possibly say that about them) but I will never forget his school. The pupils were surprised to find how surprised I was to find how totally at ease they were with new technology.

Foolishly perhaps, I tried to explain to them that there were some schools where pupils spent next to no time on the computer - and indeed, more than a few where they didn't see a computer from one term to the next. They assumed I was pulling their legs or talking about some distant corner of the globe that hadn't yet been touched by civilisation.

Their teachers, of course, were all highly proficient at using IT. So, too, were the classroom assistants. And so, too, were a surprising number of the parents who attended accredited computer classes organised by the staff. No, the school wasn't in some well-heeled suburb but on a drab estate in a town that had known better days.

Either Mr Lynch hit lucky when he landed the headship of this model school, or - it's just possible - perhaps he played some part in making it so. Perhaps he is one of those rare people who knows how to get things done. Perhaps he intends to use the NCET to make all of Britain's teachers, pupils and parents as enthusiastic about new technology as those in his school.

That is a terrifying thought - especially for the 70 per cent of the profession who like to kid themselves that IT is totally incomprehensible. They, at least, would have been far happier if the job had gone to Tinky Winky.


* An interview with Owen Lynch will appear in the Computers Update in The TES on October 10

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